Plant Microbe Interactions

Microbial Ecology

, Volume 65, Issue 3, pp 671-678

First online:

Fungal Symbionts Alter Plant Drought Response

  • Elise R. WorchelAffiliated withSection of Integrative Biology, University of Texas at Austin
  • , Hannah E. GiauqueAffiliated withSection of Integrative Biology, University of Texas at Austin
  • , Stephanie N. KivlinAffiliated withSection of Integrative Biology, University of Texas at Austin Email author 

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Abstract

Grassland productivity is often primarily limited by water availability, and therefore, grasslands may be especially sensitive to climate change. Fungal symbionts can mediate plant drought response by enhancing drought tolerance and avoidance, but these effects have not been quantified across grass species. We performed a factorial meta-analysis of previously published studies to determine how arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi and endophytic fungal symbionts affect growth of grasses under drought. We then examined how the effect of fungal symbionts on plant growth was influenced by biotic (plant photosynthetic pathway) and abiotic (level of drought) factors. We also measured the phylogenetic signal of fungal symbionts on grass growth under control and drought conditions. Under drought conditions, grasses colonized by AM fungi grew larger than those without mycorrhizal symbionts. The increased growth of grasses conferred from fungal symbionts was greatest at the lowest soil moisture levels. Furthermore, under both drought and control conditions, C3 grasses colonized by AM fungi grew larger than C3 grasses without symbionts, but the biomass of C4 grasses was not affected by AM fungi. Endophytes did not increase plant biomass overall under any treatment. However, there was a phylogenetically conserved increase in plant biomass in grasses colonized by endophytes. Grasses and their fungal symbionts seem to interact within a context-dependent symbiosis, varying with biotic and abiotic conditions. Because plant–fungal symbioses significantly alter plant drought response, including these responses could improve our ability to predict grassland functioning under global change.